If you are into betting, think twice before putting all your money on a European team winning this World Cup.
Past precedents certainly don’t bode well for the continent that claims to have invented football — not only has no European team ever won a World Cup staged in the Americas, in the previous 19 editions only Spain managed to become world champions a long way from home, in South Africa four years ago.
More worrying still for the Europeans, the combined result of the eight clashes held so far in Brazil between Latin American and European teams is merciless: 6-2 in favour of the latinos.
And to make matters worse, the Old Continent’s only two victories, which both came on June 15, were clinched by France and Switzerland against what are arguably Latin America’s weakest teams present at the World Cup: Honduras and Ecuador.
Brazil and Argentina had always been considered among the favourites to reach the July 13 final at Rio de Janeiro’s legendary Maracana stadium, of course.
But more and more pundits are now looking to Chile, Uruguay, Mexico and Colombia as strong contenders.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the issue at hand better than Costa Rica, a team that according to Italy’s Thiago Motta has “no players worthy of a top European club.” Not only have the Caribbean side defeated two traditional powerhouses like England and Italy, they are now all but certain of topping Group D, the so-called Group of Death.
In fact, there is a very good chance that seven Latin American teams may qualify for the knock-out stages in Brazil, a World Cup record. What is going on? How can it be that Costa Rica, currently 28th in the FIFA rankings, can ridicule two former world champions, or that 14-ranked Chile can humiliate current world and European title holders Spain? In most sports, playing in front of your supporters is considered an advantage.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli says Latin American teams are “more explosive and more reactive” than the Europeans. The fact that they are better suited to playing in Brazil’s tropical climate also helps, he says.
As Belgian coach Marc Wilmots put it: “I have seen (Latin American) teams with fast reaction times, who are able to quickly switch from defence to attack. They have the mental disposition and can tear loose.”
Should the current trend continue, there is every likelihood that Brazil 2014 will be an entirely Latin American affair.
Especially when you consider the fact that victories are massive confidence boosters. As Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz put it after scoring the winner against Italy: “We may be in the ‘Group of Death,’ but the dead are the others.”